Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children
Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children

This month, in Des Moines, Iowa, some 600 educators are being trained in Response to Intervention. RtI is a “framework of evidence-based practices in instruction and assessment,” according to the Iowa Department of Education. This increasingly common practice in education is being used to help Iowa’s school children become proficient readers by the end of third grade.

“Roughly one in four fourth-graders scored below proficient on the state reading test in 2012,” the Des Moines Register reported, adding that last November, the Iowa Department of Education “directed schools to adopt Response to Intervention. Since then, roughly $3.2 million in state and federal funds has been used to buy tests and develop a statewide database for the program. About 10 percent of Iowa schools will begin using the new system this fall…”

Assessing the Need

Iowa is eager to improve. Last year, the Legislature passed education reform legislation. “At the heart of the reform package is a bundle of provisions aimed at ensuring literacy among students in Kindergarten through third grade. Under the bill, schools must more closely monitor students’ reading skills in the early grades and provide intensive instruction for the ones who aren’t making adequate progress,” the Des Moines Register reported.

The state’s reading results have been disappointing. “Despite substantive efforts to improve reading achievement among Iowa school children, our trendlines are flat,” and this was true for fourth-, eighth- and eleventh-graders, according to a report issued a year ago by the Iowa Reading Research Center. The Center was created in 2012 by the Iowa Legislature to “build a virtual repository of literacy resources for Iowa.”

The report also pointed to concerning NAEP scores (National Assessment of Educational Progress), noting that “Iowa’s average score in fourth-grade reading (221) is lower than the state’s score in 1992 (225) and is unchanged from the state’s score in 2009 (221).”

Response to Intervention

“RtI allows educators to judge the overall health of their educational system by examining data on all students (general and special education) as well as identifying students who need additional supports,” according to the Center. “Those supports are provided in both small group and individual settings, and measured to determine if those supports are making a difference to ensure all learners demonstrate proficiency in the Iowa Core standards and leave school ready for life.”

According to Iowa’s education department, Response to Intervention has five components:

  1. Schools use evidence-based curriculum and instruction for all students
  2. Schools conduct universal screenings three times per year to identify students who are at-risk
  3. Students who are identified receive evidence-based, instructional interventions
  4. Data is collected and used to monitor individual students’ progress as well as guide instruction
  5. Decisions are made based on this collected data

The Department says that the result should be “continuous school improvement” that defines and diagnoses individual student’s needs, develops a plan to address them, implements the plan, and evaluates the plan’s results.

This month’s training program for educators has generated interest and excitement, according to Iowa’s education department. Participant Amanda Trei, a teacher from Rock Valley Elementary in northwest Iowa said, “I am hoping to get a system where we are all on the same page in which the assessment helps students and teachers to ensure the students are progressing.” She adds, “Right now, it is all scattered and not consistent from student to student… We don’t collect data regularly so we don’t know if what we’re doing is truly making a difference.”